A West Coast artist is the latest person to be tempted by a new round of what is known as the "Nigerian scam."
"I received an offer to purchase some of my art from someone who sent a bogus check to me from the Mayfair Title Corp. ... It was a twist on the old Nigerian scam ... they send me money and I send the difference back," he wrote to NOW. "Can you shed any light on this?"
"This is like the millionth" instance of this, said Melissa Buss, a receptionist at Mayfair Title, 1011 N. Mayfair Road.
The last three months have been especially busy.
"We were getting like, maybe, per week, maybe 50 or 60 calls," she said.
The Wauwatosa Police Department has been informed.
"This type of scam is not a new scam," Wauwatosa Detective Sgt. Keith Werner said. "It's very common."
How it works
Generally, a person or group located abroad will find a legitimate local company and create checks in the name of that company, Werner said. They send them to other companies or individuals, "saying, 'Cash this check, you know, keep $200 and send us the rest back. And, by the way, when you send it back, send it back Western Union,' because it's automatic cash when they go there," he said.
Green Dot Prepaid cards is another of several methods of monetary transfer that are paid in cash.
The check, of course, bounces, leaving the victim out the cash he or she sent back.
"I looked up Mayfair Title, and back in August we had a report of this same thing," Werner said. "In that report, there were two separate people that contacted Mayfair Title and said, 'We got a check, it's from your company, made out in this amount, and the person says that I'm to cash this check, keep $200 and send the rest back.'"
Those people did not follow through and avoided losing money, Werner said.
A case of identity theft
Mayfair Title in this case is a victim of identity theft, Werner said. He said there is no rhyme or reason to the companies chosen, except that a company that writes a lot of checks is more vulnerable.
Title insurance is procured by home buyers and sellers for protection against back taxes, undisclosed liens, legal judgments, forgeries, fraud and other potential legal and financial problems that can arise related to a previous owner.
Mayfair Title "has a lot of checks out in circulation ... and so the opportunity to gain a check, which has the routing numbers, et cetera, from Mayfair Title, is a lot greater," Werner said.
As an officer exposed to this, Werner said, he pays all his bills online.
"The less checks you have that have your checking account on them, the less chance you have of somebody getting your check from your business, and, in essence, stealing your identity," he said.
Buss confirmed that it was probably the number of checks in circulation that made Mayfair Title vulnerable.
"We've had a number of businesses in the city over the course of time that have fallen victim to that," Werner said.
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